Friday, June 29, 2012

The Write Stuff

To earn CEU's my school has signed us up for an online professional development program. It's a portal of sorts where we can watch TONS of great videos, dialogue with other teachers on various topics, and store our virtual professional portfolio. I just watched my first video and I think it's going to be a great resource for me. I'm excited to share with you what I'm finding. 

Yesterday I started putting finishing touches on the items I want in my writing folders. I love to write (and I'm pretty good at it from what I've been told...if I'm allowed to say that?!), but teaching writing this last year was a challenge for me. I knew I needed to start by getting our writing program organized. 

I used the free chevron backgrounds Dana, from 3rd Grade Gridiron, so graciously shared with us (Thanks Dana!) to create a quick and simple cover for our writing folders. 

You can snag Dana's backgrounds here!

I'll be including a "No Excuses" word list and another list of frequently used words that are based off of a list of the 1,200 most frequently used words. If you click here you can get a copy of the word lists (They are geared for 3rd grade).

 I also have a list of transition words.
I'm also going to include a little chart of proofreading marks, but don't have that put together yet.

What else do you put in your writing folders? Am I missing anything important?

Naturally when I sat down to do some of my PD videos, I had writing in mind. So without further ado...

Why do we use them? Many students:
  • have trouble organizing information
  • lack confidence
  • are unable to make personal connections to the prompt
  • don't know how to start
  • can't let go of the need to do it "right" the first time
One of the biggest barriers students face when they begin writing is the blank page sitting in front of them. 
The Strategies
  • Drawing
  • Journal Response
  • Visual Imaging
  • Research with Graphic Organizers
  • Guided Imagery
Drawing strategies help students let go of their inhibitions and the need to do a "perfect" rough draft. One drawing strategy is a Draw Your Partner activity.

I've played games like this at baby showers where you put a plate on your head and draw the Mom-to-Be. The results are hilarious. The point, though, is that since you can't see what you're doing, you don't have the choice to worry about how it comes out. You just have to go for it!

To implement this activity, put your students in pairs. They have to draw each other without looking at their paper. You can have their partner hold another piece of paper in front of the one they're drawing on so they can't peek. 

Here's my attempt at drawing my little girl...who is much cuter in real human form! 
Once this activity is finished, and the giggles have subsided, you can easily transition into the point of letting go of the rules and focus on creating a "picture" with their writing. 

Journal Responses
Journal responses help students make personal connections to the writing prompt. Journal responses should require students to answer a few questions in their response. This process should only take about five minutes. Be sure to tailor your questions so that students can make a personal connection to the upcoming writing prompt. 

Visual Imaging
This activity helps stimulate ideas for writing. Start with piles of different images. Old calendars are a great way to collect pictures that are useful for this activity. Try to find a variety of images that would evoke a wide range of emotions and feelings. 

Students get to choose their own image and then they list words of what they see in the picture. It might start off very literal, but with practice, lists will move closer towards what they imagine they see within the picture. Encourage students to pass their image and list to several peers so that peers can add to the list. Seeing what classmates list might spur on more ideas. 

Again, the idea of this strategy is to stimulate ideas. It's a great strategy to use in conjunction with writing poetry.

Research with Graphic Organizers
Using graphic organizers helps student have a visual map of the information they want to include in their writing. When using graphic organizers while writing research papers students can easily see which information they still need to gather. 

Graphic organizers are one of my favorite things to use in a variety of content areas. 

You can get an idea of the variety of organizers by visiting here.

Guided Imagery
This activity might be better suited for middle school and high school grades, but I think you'd have to judge it based on your particular group of students.

Begin this strategy by having students close their eyes and keep everything out of their hands. Walk students through a relaxation exercise. Encourage them to let go of all the things on their mind. Ask students to begin to visualize whatever the writing prompt is. 

For example, if the prompt is about their favorite birthday, the guided imagery may sound something like this:

Go back in time to your favorite birthday. Create a picture in your mind of where the birthday was. What decorations were there? What smells and sounds do you remember? Picture the faces of the people who were there when you celebrated. Recall some of the events that took place during the celebration. Did anything special or unusual happen?

When you finish, ask students to madly free write about everything they just visualized. 

Free Write
A free write is similar to a journal response. You may or may not have a series of questions to answer in a free write. You may ask students to write everything they know about a certain topic. 

The most important thing to convey to students during a free write is that this is an opportunity to let all of their thoughts spill out all over their page. Free writes should be brief and students are encouraged to forget the "rules" and just write!

I remember doing free writes a lot in high school. My english teacher would be adamant that our pencils not stop moving, even if it meant writing the same word over and over until another thought came to mind. 

How might you use one of these strategies in your class? What other pre-writing strategies have you used?


  1. Love your transition word list, but I'm having trouble accessing a copy that doesn't have the green editing squiggles. Would you be up for sharing that? Thanks! ~Callie

  2. I'd love to share Callie! If you give me your email I can send it on over.

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. Awesome! Thank you! Please send to:

    We'll use this across all subject areas. Thanks so much!

  4. I would love a copy of the transition words too if you wouldn't mind. This is an AMAZING resource. Thanks!
    email is

  5. Could you please send it to me also. I'll send you my Smartboard transition lesson when I'm finished. Thanks :)

  6. Sorry for the delay...comments when to my spam section. I'll send them over asap!